Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has announced he would filibuster President Obama’s nomination of David Barron to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit because of Barron’s authorship of a memo analyzing the use of drones against overseas terrorists. Barron concluded, as nearly every mainstream jurist and legal scholar has, that the United States has every right to wage war against those taking up arms against the country, including Americans who have joined up with jihadis overseas. Barron nevertheless erected a series of restrictions the executive branch would impose upon itself, a limitation many conservatives felt was unnecessary and dangerous. Paul, citing no constitutional precedent but operating from the vantage point of a radical libertarian, disagrees and says drone use in this context is unconstitutional and that he will filibuster Barron’s nomination. One wonders how many Republicans will support him.
The problem Barron addressed is anything but theoretical. The Daily Beast’s Eli Lake reports:
Western intelligence services have been warning that European and American jihadists have been flocking to Syria to fight. But they’ve been reluctant to say how many Americans have joined the extremist forces there—until now. The latest U.S. intelligence estimates say that more than 100 Americans have joined the jihad in Syria to fight alongside Sunni terrorists there.
Senior American intelligence officials tell The Daily Beast that they believe between six and 12 Americans who have gone to Syria to fight Assad have now returned to America. “We know where some are,” one senior U.S. intelligence official told The Daily Beast. “The concern is the scale of the problem we are dealing with.”
Consider if we could identify the Americans Lake refers to and had reason to believe they would continue their jihad outside of Syria, returning to kill Americans here at home. We have no troops in Syria, but we have the capacity to use drones to take these people out. What responsible American politician of either party would not do so? There is no constitutional or moral principle that requires us to wait for them to return to the United States, betting we’ll catch up to them and have the chance to foil their plots. Indeed, if a U.S. president had the opportunity and refused to do so, the American people and Congress would be rightfully enraged.
While some on the far right and left think that the greatest danger to Americans comes from data collection by the National Security Agency, the most knowledgeable people (e.g. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, and FBI Director James Comey) confirm that the threats from al-Qaeda have “metastasized.” In a New York Times interview, Comey recently confessed, “I didn’t have anywhere near the appreciation I got after I came into this job just how virulent those affiliates had become. There are both many more than I appreciated, and they are stronger than I appreciated.” The Times reported, “Based on what he now knows, Mr. Comey said, he is convinced that terrorism should remain the main focus of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The agency he inherited from Mr. Mueller had roughly half its 16,000 agents and analysts working on national security issues, and Mr. Comey made it clear that he would not be changing those priorities.”
In the 21st century, then, the dangers to the United States are real. The phenomenon of U.S. citizens taking up arms against the United States overseas is real. The notion that we should put aside reliable technology that does not put our military at risk in combat to eliminate mortal threats to the the country is inconceivable to most Americans. It is so inconceivable that even the Obama administration won’t adopt it.
The reports of the growing threats to Americans (in some cases by Americans) is evidence of the failure of the Obama/Hillary Clinton/John Kerry/Susan Rice national security team. Does America really want to embrace an even weaker strategy in the war against jihadism? Rand Paul thinks we’ve been too aggressive, acting unconstitutionally, in fact. I have trouble believing there is much support for that view.